Blackbird Investments’ statement on the stalled projects in Ottumwa and Des Moines was hardly a master class in damage control. It contained the usual elements — straw man arguments and vague claims of progress — but failed in its goal. Ottumwa has no more reason to trust Blackbird today than it did before. If anything, it has less reason to do so.
Let’s take the statement bit by bit. Blackbird chirped a tired refrain. It claimed to have been the victim of coverage that “contained many inaccuracies.” But Blackbird was unable to summon even a single example to use in its statement. That’s the definition of a straw man argument: a claim without basis, made to distract.
After sending the press release, Blackbird contacted the Courier directly, challenging reports in Des Moines that its demolition permit and development agreement there have lapsed.
Companies take such desperate measures when confronted with indisputable facts. And the fact in Ottumwa is that Blackbird has thus far utterly failed to deliver anything more than an eyesore. It has failed to live up to its own timelines over and over. It has left Ottumwa with a ruin.
The Courier’s coverage over the past week is based on some of the best sourcing a reporter can hope for: documents submitted in court proceedings. While companies and people can mislead in public, doing so in court filings carries severe penalties. And we have made those documents public. Copies of Elder Corporation’s claim, the mechanic’s lien and Blackbird’s mortgage of the St. Joseph Hospital site are all available on our website for anyone to review.
Blackbird’s statement relied on hyperbole. It hyped the company’s work in other cities. It attempted to create an illusion of progress: “As shown by our track record of exceptional work, our current and future projects will be exceptional and carry a huge, positive impact for thousands of people.”
That’s two exceptionals and one huge in a single sentence, for those keeping count.
Blackbird hoped by pointing to other projects it would bolster its position in Ottumwa. That’s not the case. Simply put, no work anywhere else changes the fact Blackbird has succeeded only in blasting apart an Ottumwa landmark and left the rubble in place for the better part of a year. Nothing changes the fact neighbors have had to live beside wreckage. And nothing changes the fact the city has chosen not to act in that time.
That last brings us to one of the truly disturbing things to emerge from Blackbird’s statement: The city acted as Blackbird’s press secretary. Meetings with city officials took place early in the week, prior to the statement’s release. And on Wednesday morning, the city emailed media outlets a copy of Blackbird’s statement. In fact, the subject line read “Press Release on Behalf of Blackbird Investments.” The city also posted the statement to its Facebook page.
That email said the city received the statement Tuesday afternoon and shared it with the city council before distributing it publicly on Wednesday. It was a damning act.
The city should not be acting on behalf of a company that has so clearly failed to deliver on its promises. Blackbird can, if it so chooses, speak for itself. Such action suggests the city has lost focus and slipped into the role of servant when it comes to Blackbird.
It’s time for that to change. The city must take action. The city must set deadlines. No statement from Blackbird can change the fact such action is overdue. When word of Elder Corporation’s suit reached council members, they said something needed to be done.
The ball is in the council’s court. It’s time to follow through.